If there’s one thing the 23rd annual Winter Blues Boogie in Silverton proved this year, it’s that music and dancing can overcome adversity. The event was notable for several things – the reunion of the original Dr. Fun and the Nightcrawlers lineup, a power outage and a landslide that blocked the highway from Silverton to New Denver for two hours. But most of all it was memorable for the way musicians, volunteers and dancers pulled together to keep the good times flowing.
This year’s roster featured an unbeatable triple bill, with No Excuse launching the first set, followed by the Clint Swanson Band featuring Sydney Black and finally the much-anticipated reunion of Dr. Fun and the Nightcrawlers. Early in the second set the power was cut by trees falling over power lines on Highway 6 just north of Silverton. The Clint Swanson band barely skipped a beat, demonstrating true professionalism. Their powerful horn and rhythm sections were able to keep the audience on their feet with classics such as Makin’ Whoopee and When the Saints Go Marchin’ In and some shout-along choruses. Band members were later heard to say it was the most fun they’d had in years, although for singer Sydney Black and bassist Jesse Lee the lack of amplification meant a missed opportunity.
“You didn’t see one smile disappear,” says Dick Callison, co-founder of the Blues Boogie with wife Barbara Yeomans. “To me the real story is the way people reacted. I’ve never seen such a fantastic crowd.”
The power outage left volunteers scrambling to find a generator in time for the last set with Dr. Fun. Nikta Bouromand offered to drive to New Denver to pick up her generator but was turned back at the landslide by police. Katrina Sumrall then went to her home in Silverton to get the family truck and pick up a generator owned by Terry Everett, which luckily had a tank full of gas. By the time Dr. Fun were ready to come on, there was power for the sound system but not for the hall lights. Once again peoples’ resiliency shone through in the many pocket flashlights that suddenly appeared. Someone brought in a high-powered flashlight and mounted it on the balcony to provide lighting for the dance floor. Dancing in the semi-darkness didn’t seem to bother anyone, with the dance floor as crowded with bodies as ever.
“That’s what’s so unique about that event,” said Boogie patron Dr. Peter Schuh of Nelson. “You go to other concerts and there’s a few people dancing but a lot of people sitting. At Blues Boogie you walk in and the floor is just jammed with dancers.”
Three Dr. Fun band members were trapped on the other side of the slide, bass player Curt Garrison, saxophone player John d’Ehaan, trumpet player Doug Wylie. They’d gone to New Denver between sets to rest up at a friend’s house when the slide came down. No Excuse bassist Ken Turner stepped in to fill the gap, resulting in a surprisingly seamless performance. At about 11:45 pm Highway 6 was reopened and the musicians made it in time for the last three songs of the final set. The Clint Swanson horn section, featuring Ronnie Butler and Crispin Elder, kept the groove going ’til Wylie and d’Ehaan arrived. The final songs featured members of both No Excuse and Dr. Fun for a stunning finale.
As always, it’s volunteers who keep the wheels from coming off the Blues Boogie dance wagon. Mike Lesnik, Charlene Alexander and Julia Greenlaw kept an eye on the doors to ensure liquor consumption stayed inside the hall. Lesnik gets this reporter’s nomination for the friendliest ‘bouncer’ yet. Katrina Sumrall once again went beyond the call of duty with the generator. Kitchen and liquor sales volunteers made sure everyone had refreshments. Jeff Pilsner captured much of the historic performance on video. The Lucerne preschool has been the beneficiary of the event for many years now.
“What a gift Dick and Barb give us,” says Sumrall. “They get the bands, they house and feed them and they have a big celebration breakfast for them after the dance.”
Callison says those who didn’t show cited illness rather than road conditions for keeping them away. The regional district had gone on emergency alert and was advising caution on mountain roads. Unusually high rainfall for this time of year has shut down ski hills across the province. Landslides on Highway 6 had traffic down to a single lane in Crescent Valley and Slocan Park, leading some to suggest renaming this event Climate Change Blues Boogie.
“Ten years from now I’ll remember two dances,” says Callison. “The one where some idiot started spraying a fire extinguisher around and was thrown out of the hall. And this one – this is the one everybody’s going to remember.”
The annual event is a fundraiser for New Denver’s preschool at Lucerne School, which serves both villages and the north Slocan Valley as far as Hills. Preschool director Charlene ‘Bean’ Alexander recently won the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.